Question: Are there not inherent risks associated with normal interpretation of figurative language? Do the gifts of interpretation exist today?
Why? Because this is the area of Scripture where we find the greatest use of symbols, figures of speech and word pictures. Unfolding Old Testament historical books or the New Testament gospels/epistles is much more straightforward and objective. They primarily deal with history, facts and explicit declarations.
With that being said, the prophetic portions of God’s Word are not obscure! Like other types of Scripture, they are meant to be understood in context. God recorded His written Word to reveal who He is and to declare His will for mankind. To accomplish that awesome goal, the Bible communicates to us using a vast array of literary devices — history, narrative, wisdom, proverbs, poetry, prophecy and yes, word pictures and symbols. So when it contains “symbols,” we treat it as such, knowing that the symbol points to a truth or principle which God is communicating to us. When it contains poetry (e.g., Psalms/Song of Solomon), we do likewise.
The Scripture is uniquely designed to declare God’s truth! Whether it is the symbolic language we find in Daniel 7 that God uses to describe and characterize the 4 great world empires He ordained in Daniel 2:
- Head of God…Babylon
- Chest&Arms of Silver..Medo-Persia
- Thighs of Brass…Greece
- Legs of Iron…Rome (and the final revived Roman empire…the Ten Toes of Iron and Clay)
Or the “beast” (the antichrist) in Revelation 13. Just like all other literary types in Scripture, prophecy is part of God’s written revelation and unfolds His purposes for creation and world history. Therefore we need to rightly interpret it too!!
Scripture uses prophetic symbols as a means of communicating God’s truth. So our job when we read prophetic portions of Scripture is the same as always. We are to unfold what God meant by what He said in the text and apply it our lives.
Because “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim.3:16a) and because we are “to handle accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim 3:15b), we need to approach the prophetic language of Scripture for what it is; word pictures, symbols and images that represent or point to a deeper truth or principle. We must do this in context, allowing the flow of thought in the passage and any pertinent corresponding and/or parallel passages to shed light on the primary text being interpreted. And thankfully, because God’s Word was given in a progressive manner, we have the previous record of history and fulfilled prophecy to aid us in our interpretation of future events (e.g., Dan 7 vs. Rev 13).
In response to your question about the “gift of interpretation,” I assume you’re talking about the OT prophets’ ability to explain or “foretell” God’s prophetic word given to them and the related occurrences during the “apostolic era” where there were gifts given for the explanation of new prophecy and the interpretation of different known languages (aka, ‘tongues’).
Today we have the entire written record of God’s revealed will (the Bible) and therefore do not need any further clarification of prophecy. It a full record of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). There is no new prophecy to be given today. Every promise or future event which God intends for us to know is already contained in the Word and should be interpreted as described above (2 Pet 1:20-21).